Government has not evaluated the impact of its welfare reforms on homelessness, or the impact of the mitigations that it has put in place, according to the National Audit Office.

There were 77,240 households in temporary accommodation in England in March 2017, an increase of 60% since March 2011. These households included 120,540 children, an increase of 73% from March 2011. Homelessness at present costs the public sector in excess of £1 billion a year. More than three quarters of this – £845 million – was spent on temporary accommodation. Three quarters of this spending – £638 million – was funded by housing benefit.

The ending of private sector tenancies has overtaken all other causes to become the biggest single driver of statutory homelessness in England. The proportion of households accepted as homeless by local authorities due to the end of an assured shorthold tenancy increased from 11% during 2009-10 to 32% during 2016-17. The proportion in London increased during the same period from 10% to 39%. Across England, the ending of private sector tenancies accounts for 74% of the growth in households who qualify for temporary accommodation since 2009-10. In addition, it appears likely that the decrease in affordability of properties in the private rented sector, of which welfare reforms such as the capping of Local Housing Allowance are an element, have driven this increase in homelessness.

Today’s report found that the Department for Communities and Local Government does not have a published cross government strategy to prevent and tackle homelessness. It has, however, acknowledged the scale of the challenge and plans to improve the data the government holds on homelessness.

In addition, although the Department is responsible for tackling homelessness, during its increase, the Department took a light touch approach to working with local authorities. This contrasts with the more interventionist approach that it has taken during previous periods of high homelessness. Although the Department requires each local authority to have a homelessness strategy, it does not monitor their content or their progress.

The Department has supported new legislation that will increase the responsibilities of local authorities in preventing homelessness. The Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 aims to give local authorities more responsibility for preventing homelessness. The Department expects that these responsibilities will lead to an increase in prevention cases and a fall in the number of households that qualify for temporary accommodation.

The ability of local authorities to respond to increased homelessness is constrained by the limited options they have to house homeless families. As the NAO set out in its assessment of the housing market in Housing in England: overview, there has been a significant reduction in social housing over the past few decades. While spending by local authorities on homelessness services such as temporary accommodation has steadily increased since 2010, spending on overall housing services has fallen by 21% in real terms over the same period. The proportion of homeless households in temporary accommodation outside their home borough increased from 13% in March 2011 to 28% in March 2017. Almost 90% of these households are from London boroughs.

“Homelessness in all its forms has significantly increased in recent years, driven by several factors. Despite this, government has not evaluated the impact of its reforms on this issue, and there remain gaps in its approach. It is difficult to understand why the Department persisted with its light touch approach in the face of such a visibly growing problem. Its recent performance in reducing homelessness therefore cannot be considered value for money”.

Amyas Morse, head of the National Audit Office

Read the full report


Notes for editors

60% Increase in households in temporary accommodation since March 2011 77,240 Households in temporary accommodation at March 2017 £1.15 billion Local authority spending on homelessness services during 2015-16 88,410 Homeless households that applied for homelessness assistance during 2016-17 105,240 Households threatened with homelessness and helped to remain in their own home by local authorities during 2016-17 (increase of 63% since 2009-10) 4,134 Rough sleepers counted and estimated on a single night in autumn 2016 (increase of 134% since autumn 2010) Threefold Approximate increase in the number of households recorded as homeless following the end of an assured shorthold tenancy since 2010-11 21,950 Households placed in temporary accommodation outside the local authority that recorded them as homeless at March 2017 (increase of 248% since March 2011) 1. Press notices and reports are available from the date of publication on the NAO website. Hard copies can be obtained by using the relevant links on our website. 2. The National Audit Office scrutinises public spending for Parliament and is independent of government. The Comptroller and Auditor General (C&AG), Sir Amyas Morse KCB, is an Officer of the House of Commons and leads the NAO, which employs some 785 people. The C&AG certifies the accounts of all government departments and many other public sector bodies. He has statutory authority to examine and report to Parliament on whether departments and the bodies they fund have used their resources efficiently, effectively, and with economy. Our studies evaluate the value for money of public spending, nationally and locally. Our recommendations and reports on good practice help government improve public services. Our work led to audited savings of £734 million in 2016.

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